I appreciate the opportunity to offer a response to Drew’s article about the itinerancy. I find things I agree with, and things I disagree with. The dialogue keeps us all thinking about what could be best for the people called United Methodist. My words come from the viewpoint of one of the first group of district superintendents who has lived under the newer task of being a “chief missional strategist.” This is my 5th year appointed as a superintendent.
I will take Drew’s points one at a time:
1) Itinerancy is intended for a very different context than United Methodists (at least in the US) face today. I think it would be more accurate to say, itinerancy was originally designed for a different context. However, the philosophy behind the original context and the present context seems to be a good mix: what is the best strategy to (1) deploy clergy, (2) match giftedness of pastors to the needs of a congregation, and (3) can a third but involved and prayerful party (the cabinet) partner with clergy and congregations in discerning how we can best do evangelism and discipleship in a changing reality? While it is unfortunate that we have come full circle from Wesley’s desire to reform the Anglican Church, it seems that our present manner of supplying clergy to churches may be more appropriate than ever. While Asbury and Wesley might not recognize what itinerancy has morphed into, I believe they would certainly recognize the need for it, more than ever. The need to strategically match pastors and congregations is greater than ever.
2) Itinerancy primarily benefits single white men. I couldn’t disagree more. I doubt that we would have as many female clergy and people of color in pulpits were it not for the itinerancy. We are far, far from perfect in that area, and clergy couples and professional spouses are certainly a challenge. But I know from experience that many congregations would not “take” a woman or person of color as a pastor were it not for the system we presently have. And, I am happy to add, many churches have learned through the itinerancy to change their views regarding women and race. We still have work to do.
3) Itinerancy is designed for short-term service. Again, I think it is more accurate to say, “Itinerancy was originally designed for short-term service.” However, it changed as the church changed. Are there tweaks and adaptations that could make it better? Absolutely. But I know in my conversation with others in different traditions that many “envy” our way of providing pastoral leadership. There is certainly nothing “sacred” about the itinerancy, but I think the charge of “organizational habit that is no longer effective” discounts the ability for adaptability, and disregards the itinerancy’s main function: to deploy clergy who are missionally sent. It is also a reminder to churches and pastor that we are not self-made, but formed and transformed by a community of faith, yoked together with Christ. Together, let us try to perfect it, rather than do away with it.
– The Rev’d Sky McCracken, OSL, is District Superintendent of the Purchase District of the Memphis Conference of The United Methodist Church.